The Four Shifts Shaping Leadership Development

The Pandemic has changed the Leadership Development landscape forever, but are corporate leaders ready to accept the new realities? Understanding the broader shifts and designing the right learning experiences play a big part in making this happen.

To inform our design process at Emerging World, we regularly review the trends and insights that are shaping Leadership Development. Recently as part of this process, I’ve been having a number of reflective and empathetic conversations with Learning, Talent and business professionals across different industries to get a sense of what’s on their mind about Leadership Development.

Four shifts have surfaced, which seem to be primarily driven by social, organisational and learner motivations fuelled by the pandemic, the changing role of business in society, social injustice and ‘the Great Resignation’. All these factors are placing pressure on whether corporate Leadership Development departments have the right plans in place to adequately develop leaders to meet the business demands and challenges ahead.

So, what is shaping and influencing the Leadership Development landscape?

Shift 1: Not just Purpose but ESG

Purpose is here to stay but related concerns such as Environmental Social & Governance (ESG) are taking centre stage with the concept of Responsible Capitalism coming into its own. It is clear, that companies are responding to employee and customer demands for greater action and are needing to take a stance on issues such as climate change, economic disparity, ethical investment and other pressing global concerns. Progressive companies are seeing this as an opportunity and not just an obligation but helping leaders to make the mental transition and understand and succeed this new world order is a growing priority., Leaders will need to find a balance between driving business value while managing and enhancing environmental and societal outcomes. This is a new challenge and commitment for many leaders. It is no longer about just being aware of the issues but of needing to put actionable plans into place.

How CISL programme participants responded to the purpose questions in the 2019 Emerging World CISL Impact Benchmark Study

Shift 2: From Box Ticking to Belonging

Over the last few years, factors such as social injustice, the Great Resignation, hybrid work models and collaborative technologies have prompted companies around the world to put a critically assess their diversity, inclusion and belonging strategies. Many companies have come to a stark realisation that they are only just meeting the basic compliance requirements. Yet, to create lasting change and leverage the true potential of this work, what has become apparent is that companies need to connect their DIBs agenda to business imperatives such as innovation, talent management and digitization. This requires CEOs and executive boards to approach Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging differently. And to drive that shift, leaders need visceral immersive experiences that change their perspectives and behaviours appropriately. Learning approaches that need to have an immersive emotional component to trigger behaviours and mindset changes.

Shift 3: Making the leap from Enterprise Leadership to Systems Leadership

The pandemic is not short on lessons, but one that stands out is that big, complex messy problems cannot be solved by businesses, governments or NGOs working independently. Such assumptions caused huge disruptions in getting medicines, critical care and basic necessities to people across the globe with massive repercussions. The need for greater collaboration and cooperation between different sectors in society is paramount to solving the setbacks all of us experienced.
Leaders in companies have a vital role to play in transcending boundaries, by being the intermediaries (or even the glue) that connects various parts of the larger systems in which they operate. Such a role requires a different way of seeing things and a unique set of behaviours that enables leaders to step outside of their enterprises and think more broadly, work in new ways, use power differently and forge unconventional alliances.

Shift 4: From Talking to Taking Action

I also got the sense, from the conversations I had, that more and more corporate leaders want to go beyond just reading or discussing topics connected to ESG, DIBs or systems-thinking and instead lean in and take action. They want to have a deeper connection to these issues and where possible make a positive contribution to addressing them. This not only helps ensure their learning is embedded in real action but also fuels their own sense of meaning and purpose.

How Emerging World Translates Conversations into Immersive Learning Experiences

Embracing and understanding these shifts can be uncomfortable, and at times even scary, for leaders. They will be journeying through unfamiliar territory where there is there is high ambiguity. But gaining trust and comfort in navigating the unknown is part of the self-discovery and learning process that is so vital for leaders. And is one of the reasons why Immersive Learning is becoming a more popular.

At Emerging World, in order to design impactful programmes, we pay close attention to anchoring our immersive learning experiences in the right context. We do this by targeting relevant problem spaces to work on, identifying appropriate social partners to work with, and creating a safe learning environment for participants to work within. A space where they can open their minds to different possibilities and practice and experiment with the behaviours they need to develop.

Immersion, either virtual or in-person, provides a space for leaders step out of their normal contexts and work routines and into new realms in which they can engage with the key shifts that are taking place around the world. In our learning experiences leaders invariably roll up their sleeves and work on real challenges of purpose-driven partner organizations at the interface of these key shifts. So, for example, a group of senior leaders from a technology company might explore diversity and inclusion as they work with partner organizations addressing issues of structural inequality, while simultaneously practicing the kinds of inclusive leadership behaviour required to build the genuine culture of belonging inside their own organization that improves retention. In another example a logistics company might send high-potential talent to work with small business customers in emerging markets to understand diverse and shifting customer needs while connecting with their organization’s purpose.

The problem-spaces and partners can come from many different areas including Sustainability, Employability, Education and Entrepreneurship. The exposure to people on the front lines of these issues is humbling, informative and inspiring. While working on the challenges they face, provides far deeper understanding and more meaningful engagement than any simple visit or conversation or classroom experience ever can. Communities that are connected the ecosystem, including ESG or the DIB space to name a few.
These are some of the reasons why companies turn to us when they want meaningful leadership development experiences that help leaders make these shifts. It’s an approach we’ve been using for the last 18 years with companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft, Maersk and ServiceNow to help their leaders change perspectives and shift their businesses.

We expect that the global shifts that are emerging post-pandemic will shape the kind of work we do moving forward. There will be more work in Sustainability, a greater emphasis on wellbeing and belonging and a desire to look at whole systems rather than constituent parts.

It’s proving to be an exciting time for Immersive Learning and if there’s more you’d like to understand about this work, we’d love to hear from you. To learn more, please contact David Tsipenyuk who supports our Leadership Development work at

There is more to the story of how we prepare leaders to tackle the shifts, so having a conversation about the work and approach of Emerging World may be helpful.

David Tsipenyuk – Client Engagement Director – Leadership Development